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What is the Automated Vehicle Policy Landscape After Uber?

By Kelley Coyner

(CREE Director’s Note: The development of automated vehicles (AV) is of keen interest to the real estate industry due to game-changing implications for mobility, logistics, parking, and many other aspects of the built environment.  This article summarizes the federal and state public policy environment for AV after the fatal Uber AV crash in Arizona in March 2018.  The author, Kelley Coyner, is a Faculty Fellow of the George Mason Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship, a Senior Fellow at the Schar School of Public Policy, and CEO of Mobility e3.)

What is the AV Policy Landscape After Uber?

At the beginning of 2018, Congress was poised to pass a bill that would have federalized the regulation of AV on the road operations. After the Arizona Uber crash that killed a pedestrian, the AV SMART Act S. 11885 stalled.

States, cities, and their transportation agencies have moved ahead with safety, policy, planning and technology deployment initiatives. At the same time, start-ups and traditional automotive manufacturers continue to move forward with testing and, in some cases, are deploying AVs on private and public roads.

Feds: Focus on Voluntary Standards and Technology Deployment

Legislative Status: The AV SMART Act (S. 1885) stalled in committee in the Senate principally due to concerns about preempting state authority to regulate AVs. This is after the House passed its companion bill.

What’s Next?: Though there have been efforts to tack the AV SMART Act on other bills in the waning days of the 115th Congress, it seems likely that the federal legislators will take a fresh look in January.

Regulation: Instead of binding regulations, both the Obama and Trump administrations favored policy guidance. In 2017, Secretary Elaine Chao released Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety , a revision to the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy Statement (FAVP) released by the Obama Administration. Each details legal authorities for AVs, defines the state and federal relationship, and establishes a voluntary safety approval process. The FAVP confirmed that most states can proceed with testing and deployment under existing federal and state laws. Though there is no move afoot to develop regulations, the Department does have the authority to grant waivers to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and also has three AV safety approval letters pending.

What’s Next? While it is fairly certain there will be no action on developing regulations, Secretary Chao has promised a third round of guidance that will address AVs across all modes. SAE International has announced a plan to develop a framework for industry standards for AV safety. The Department of Transportstion (DOT) may be able to support this type of voluntary standards.  Also, keep an eye out for action on safety approval letters and reports on industry practices regarding safety, operators, and training.

Funding: In the wake of the Uber crash, Congress appropriated more than $100 million for research on safety standards and testing and to develop a comprehensive roadmap for AV deployment. The General Accounting Office called for this plan in a report issued last November. In addition, DOT teed up other federal grant programs to support AV pilots and related technology development.

What’s Next? Expect DOT to support technology deployment through grant programs under the auspices of the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration. The Secretary has prioritized projects that serve senior citizens and persons with disabilities and pilots in rural areas. Also, keep an eye out for a research plan for the funds provided by the Omnibus Appropriations of 2018.

States: Focus on Safety Oversight of AVs and Stimulating Tech Deployment

State of Play – Legislation: In 2018, many states considered AV legislation, but almost none moved forward on new bills. A few states adopted narrow exceptions to current motor vehicle laws such as reducing requirements for vehicle separation for truck platoons. Seven states are proceeding under executive orders, which acknowledge existing authorities, to promote testing and deployment and have not passed separate legislation.

Safety Oversight: States have approached the question of regulating operator and vehicle safety in different ways. California requires that manufacturers include information on testing and training in their permit application. Nevada assigns the responsibility for AV registration to its DMV without further direction. In Arizona, the Governor directed an inter-agency task force to develop standards. More recently, Pennsylvania’s DOT issued requirements concerning safety operators — individuals in AVs that being tested who are evaluating performance or who are assigned to override automated steering and braking as required.

Technology Deployment: Many states and cities have convened task forces or planning studies under the auspices of the State Department of Transportation or Metropolitan Planning Organizations. The studies typical charge MPOs or DOTs with finding ways to introduce, scale, and integrate automated vehicle systems to improve mobility, economic development, equity, health and safety in their states. In addition, many states are holding technology challenges and smart road hackathons; and sponsoring smart city and smart infrastructure incubators and AV proving grounds.

On the Horizon :
Legislative and Regulatory Action:
States that completed legislative studies or that are conducting strategic planning exercises may take up legislative proposals to facilitate deployment and to address the impacts of deployment. Keep an eye on Arizona and Ohio whose governors both issued executive orders to facilitate technology deployment. Arizona used its existing enforcement authority to stop Uber’s testing. Will it issue guidance or standards
on safety? Columbus, Ohio, the winner of the Smart Cities Competition, just announced testing of an AV shuttle project in Columbus that is expected to go into operation with passengers in 2019.

Technology Deployment:
Some key states and cities to watch in Q4 2018 and next year include:
Chicago – Planning a program mobility innovation pilots
Illinois – Announcing AV strategy including agricultural, industrial, and freight applications
D.C. – Launching regional scenario planning study
Texas – Moving out on pilots across the state; Texas Innovation Alliance to provide tech
assistance to localities
Florida – Hosting AV summit
Rhode Island – Inaugurated new AV pilots program
Virginia – Finishing a first round of Smart Road Hackathons

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